After a frigid winter and rainy spring, summer is finally just around the corner, and you’re already thinking about how great you’re going to look sporting this year’s summer tan.
“I just need to burn a couple of times and then my skin will be golden — literally!” you say without even thinking of the consequences.
But think about this: When was the last time you applied sunscreen? How many times do you apply it every month, on average? In winter? Never, right?
What if I told you you should be applying sunscreen every single day no matter the weather, no matter the time of year? I’m sure it’s not so easy to convince you.
Most Americans hardly ever touch sunscreen until it makes its debut front and center on the shelves of local pharmacies after Memorial Day weekend in May. However, it’s rarely actively applied until it’s time to head off to the beach.
But did you know that more people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined? That’s a scary thought.
Like deodorant and brushing your teeth, sunscreen should be applied daily to protect the skin from the harmful and irreversible effects of UVA and UVB rays.
But wait — what exactly are UVA and UVB rays?
Long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) rays make up the majority (95%) of UV radiation coming from the sun. They damage the skin deeper than UVB and are 30 to 50 times more prevalent.
UVA rays are shining down on planet earth’s surface throughout all daylight hours, with more or less equal intensity, and can penetrate through both clouds and glass.
“ UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and we now know that tanning, whether outdoors or in a salon, causes cumulative damage over time. A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA; the skin darkens in an imperfect attempt to prevent further DNA damage. These imperfections, or mutations, can lead to skin cancer.” -SkinCancer.org
On the other hand, there’s short wave ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are less prominent in the day than UVA but still have damaging effects on the skin. These rays are their strongest from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the United States and are the major culprit for sunburns and red skin as they penetrate the epidermis, the skin’s outer layers. These rays have the ability to burn the skin year round.
It’s important to note that these rays are especially dangerous at high altitudes and when reflecting off surfaces such as water and snow; they bounce back up and hit the hit skin twice. Meaning yes — you can still burn in winter.
So now that we’re up to speed on the different types of UV rays, let’s dive into the benefits of applying sunscreen.
- It keeps you looking young. You know that skin… the dry, spotted, leathery skin. It’s safe to say those sun chasers didn’t apply their sunscreen very often. That’s because 90% of all visible signs of aging are caused by sun exposure
- It decreases your risk of developing skin cancer, the U.S.’s most common cancer.
- As our environment worsens, so does the ozone layer. The ozone layer acts like the sunscreen of the earth, absorbing as much UVB rays as it can before it hits our planet. Unfortunately, the ozone layer is depleting, meaning the need for sunscreen is all the more crucial.
- Sunscreen will keep your skin tone even, preventing sun spots and discolorations.
- It helps to prevents sun burns — obviously that’s its job and all. However, if applied correctly and repeatedly when outdoors, sunscreen will help stop those UVA rays from leaving you in pain with burnt, peeling, and sensitive-to-touch skin — not to mention the headaches, nausea, and fatigue that commonly follow. Sunscreen should be combined with other sun blockers such as hats and apparel for maximum prevention against sun burns.
Now we know the importance of sunscreen. But what’s that SPF business all about? How do I know what sunscreen I need to use?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number of SPF indicates how long a sunscreen should protect you from UVB rays, which we learned penetrates the epidermis, leaving us with sunburns.
No matter what SPF you use, sunscreen should be applied to dry skin 15–30 minutes before sun exposure and should be reapplied every 2 hours that you’re in the sun.
“One rule of thumb is a teaspoon per body part or area: 1 teaspoon for your face, head, and neck; 1 for each arm; 1 for each leg; 1 for your chest and abdomen, and 1 for your back and the back of your neck.” -Consumer Reports
It’s recommended that everyone uses at least SPF 30 as it blocks 97% of the sun’s UVB rays. Higher SPFs such as SPF 50 block slightly more rays, but no sunscreen has the capability of blocking 100% of UVB rays.
It’s important to also select a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
Cherish your skin by protecting it from the sun’s harmful rays. Tan skin may be trendy, but imagine how it’s going to look years down the road when the sun spots and wrinkles take over your once gleaming skin.